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Making a difference

Paul Bickford
Northern News Services
Wednesday, March 05, 2007

HAY RIVER - In his line of work, Tom Hamilton does not want to see clients return.

That's because Hamilton is warden of the minimum-security South Mackenzie Correctional Centre (SMCC) in Hay River.

NNSL Photo/graphic

Tom Hamilton has been warden at South Mackenzie Correctional Centre in Hay River for over 12 years. - Paul Bickford/NNSL photo

"When a person doesn't come back, it's the ultimate success," Hamilton said in a recent interview.

However, he explained there are other ways to gauge success, such as how long a person might go before returning to the facility.

"We have to judge success differently," he said. "It's not that you don't see a person again, but not for a while."

However, he noted that, whenever someone returns to SMCC, it's disappointing.

Hamilton feels, as warden, he can be a positive influence in people's lives, adding he can make more of a difference in the North than in larger institutions in the South.

At SMCC, there are a maximum of 52 adult male inmates, and Hamilton gets to know them.

"The contact with the offenders is much different," he said. "Down south, the offenders would never call me Tom."

Hamilton tries to help the inmates through programs dealing with such things as anger management, family violence, reasoning and rehabilitation, and job readiness and life skills.

"I like to look at it as a more healing, rehabilitative milieu," Hamilton said of SMCC.

Hamilton, who is originally from Lethbridge, Alta., has lived in Hay River and been warden at SMCC for over 12 years.

"I've been in corrections for over 25 years," noted the 52-year-old.

Hamilton began his career as a corrections officer in St. Paul, Alta., moving from a job as a liquor store clerk.

Over his career, he has worked in corrections in five different locations. Along with Hay River and St. Paul, there have been Calgary, Red Deer and Iqaluit, where he was warden at the Baffin Correctional Centre from 1990-92.

"I've done every job along the way, except for cook and nurse," he said.

Aside from being well known in Hay River as SMCC warden, Hamilton is into his third term as a town councillor.

"I truly believe that when you live in a community, you need to be involved in the community," he said, adding he finds time for municipal politics because most meetings are in the evening or over lunch.

"I find the work really challenging and interesting, and I think I have made a difference," he said.

His main hobby is playing oldtimers' hockey, he noted. "I really enjoy that. That's where I get my exercise."

Hamilton, the father of two grown children and the grandfather of two, said Hay River and his corrections career have been very good to him. "I'm not going to be retiring anytime soon."